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Picturing a World

When William Came

Cover, Saki, When William Came (1913)

In these fraught, puzzling, polarizing times, a what-if novel from before WWI is an oddly affecting picture of how citizens come to make peace with a new political order and their own violations of conscience. It offers shrewdly observed answers to the question, How could they?!? Set in an England that has been conquered after a one-week war with Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany, it is the work of a novelist, H. H. Munro (Saki) who knows human behavior too well and writes too slyly to produce simple-minded propaganda. 



When I ran across a reference to When William Came, I searched and found a review by Kate Macdonald, which in turn sent me to an online used-book site to buy a copy. It's not quite as funny as I had expected from Saki (though there are deliciously witty scenes); but it's quick read—and it lingers in the mind as both lens and mirror.


Incidentally, in one of those 'net serendipities, I had just ordered a forthcoming collection of stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner from Kate Macdonald's Handheld Press. What treasures do crop up! Bravo, brava, to all those who are keeping book culture alive.

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